The Federal Court System: A Principal-Agent Perspective
Tracey, George E., 1967-
Like Congress, the Supreme Court must delegate a great deal of its work, in this case to lower courts rather than to agencies. Since the Supreme Court is formally at the apex of the judicial pyramid, the Court's decisions can be conceptualized as a principal directing (or attempting to direct) its agents, the lower courts. The Supreme Court has limited resources to monitor the actions of lower federal courts and state courts; therefore, the possibility arises that judges will not comply with Supreme Court preferences. The Court obviously wishes to check these inconsistent rulings, but monitoring and enforcement is costly. We consider what the theory of congressional-bureaucratic relations can tell us about the Supreme Court's relational contract with lower courts, and, in particular, we consider whether it offers additional insight to the transition from the first to the second Rehnquist Court.